Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Different World

I know many of my students live in poverty.
I know many of my students' parents work minimum wage jobs.
I know many of my students have second hand clothes.
I know many of my students get holiday gifts from the Salvation Army.
I know many of my students don't have winter coats.
I know many of my students live with multiple families.
I really do know all of this.

However, it still hurt yesterday when a little one was sharing a foam snowflake she had decorated and made into an ornament. The kids asked her about it and she said, "My mom, on my birthday last year, couldn't get me a present so she got me this now."

She was so matter-of-fact about not getting a present on her birthday. She was so excited about this foam snowflake. I hurt for her and was so amazed by her.

Friday, December 18, 2009

First Grade Shock and Awe

The amazing reading teacher who works with my class has pushed us to do readers' theater at the end of each quarter. We've just gotten started with our first round and she suggested we model the wrong and right ways to do it.

Yesterday we modeled the wrong way. We turned in circles, yelled or whispered our lines, climbed on a table, bossed each other around, held the book in front of our faces, and who knows what else. The kids thought it was hilarious.

At the end we had them chart all the things they had noticed. They didn't miss much. However, this reading teacher mentioned to the students that she had not been paying any attention to the punctuation (something we've been exploring for a week or so). On boy immediately yelled out, in great shock, "How could anyone do that?"

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I Can't See the Forest for the Trees

The books my students wrote for the library have got them energized! They are on a book writing roll and I love it. Yesterday I checked out another tub full of books, this time on lots of different topics. I got books about different animals and insects, books about trucks and fire engines, books about cars and space travel. When I showed them the books yesterday they applauded as I pulled each one out of the tub. You can't beat that.

Today they are continuing to work on their books. They are writing about butterflies, guinea pigs, owls, cars, a brother, and themselves. Everyone has a topic and is working on a book.

The problem is that I'm a grouchy teacher (as was made obvious by my last, whiny post). They are so excited by the things they are finding in the books that they have to run around showing each other what they've discovered. They are so proud of themselves for including a table of contents in their book that they want to share it with all their friends.

I keep having to bite my tongue not to tell them to stop. I have to remind myself that this is all completely fabulous.

(I wrote this post ten days ago. Sadly, as you can see below, little has changed for me. I need a break.)

We are doing readers' theaters to wrap up the quarter. It gives the kids a break from the daily routine of guided reading and allows us to really focus on fluency and phrasing. The kids are thrilled! They pull out their scripts every chance they get. As soon as they finish their reading centers they grab the scripts, sit down with others in their group, and start practicing.

I am working with one or two kids on their parts and, inevitably, I find myself scolding these self-starters, telling them to be quieter, go sit somewhere else, something! I should be commending their efforts, encouraging this behavior, seeing the positive. Ugh.

Quick Observation

First graders with:

poor gross/fine motor skills + slight OCD issues = bad combination

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Guinea Pigs and First Grade Goofiness

In writing my first graders have been writing books. Initially they wrote some to put in the library but they have continued at a record pace. We checked out books on all kinds of topics to help them come up with ideas and get started. As a result, we had to have a few lessons on putting things in our own words and not copying the book.

I conferenced today with a little girl who is writing about guinea pigs. A couple of her pages didn't make sense to me and I was asking her about them. One page she couldn't explain and she decided to cut. Another page she struggled to explain to me. It said, "Guinea pigs are in a circle." (not with that spelling, of course). So she finally ran off to grab a book.

In my head I'm composing the conversation about not copying from the book. She returns with the book and the first thing she says is, "I didn't copy from the book."

Now I'm giggling inside and exceptionally curious. She flips through the pages until she finds one with a guinea pig in an exercise wheel.

She didn't copy. She put it in her own words. I hope the illustration in her book helps readers understand what she means.

Friday, December 11, 2009

EoE spells Mom

My amazing co-teacher shared with me today about a student in another school. This little girl, when asked to write 'mom', wrote 'EoE'. Of course, I looked at this completely at a loss.

She then went on to tell me that the little girl's name is Emma. Think about that for a minute.

Next, she told me that Emma confuses the letters E and M. (Not a typical problem for kids.) Again, think about it.

When Emma says her name, what does she hear? The first sound she hears is the 'm' sound. She knows that her name begins with the letter 'E'. Therefore E must make the 'm' sound.

So, EoE spells mom. Amazing, isn't it? So many of the confusions kids face make perfect sense when one can find the entire context. Kids are highly logical. There are almost always really good reasons for what they think. We, as teachers and parents, become the detectives trying to find those reasons in order to correct misconceptions.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Administrative Frustration

On the whole I am enjoying the administrative graduate classes I have been taking. The great majority of the people I meet in these classes are wonderful. They are dedicated, smart, thoughtful educators.

That said, there are always one or two that cause me great internal pain. The idea that they could be a principal someday is disturbing.

There are two types of these people. The first is just clueless. These people don't know anything about current issues in education. I'm surprised when they know what NCLB stands for. What suggests to these folks that they have anywhere near enough knowledge to be a principal?

The second type doesn't seem to understand equity issues. They are willing to cut programs and have students and families pay for things. Basically what they say is that everyone needs to be responsible for themselves. Sometimes this is based in racism. Sometimes it is based in 'back to basics' bull.

I wouldn't want to work for either of these types of administrators.

(Just as an aside, I don't think I want to be a principal. It's a very important, very difficult job. I don't think I'm good enough or dedicated enough.)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Brief Whining Break

I spent Tuesday's specials time (when my kids are in PE or music) with my little mentee. I adore her. She was in my class last year and I'm glad to continue to work with her. Yesterday I met with a couple of other teachers to discuss our plans for prepping the kids to do readers' theater. I spent today's specials time meeting with a behavior specialist to talk about a student who is continually non-compliant. Tomorrow I will spend that specials time observing a reading recovery lesson. All of these things are worth my time. I just want a bit of that time for me.

Teaching in a primary grade is constant, non-stop, always on. I'm ready to be off for a bit.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Our Brilliant Librarian, Part 2

For background see Part 1.
On our second trip to the library our amazing librarian had things ready for us to explore non-fiction books by looking at their parts. She had a bunch of non-fiction books out on a range of topics and the kids started by looking at the front cover of a book. They described all the parts of the cover they could find.

From there the explorations moved on to the title page and then to the middle of the book. Students noticed the publishing information, the table of contents, page numbers, pictures, and captions. It was fabulous. We moved on to look at the end of the book (index, glossary, more resources) but had to continue the lesson back in our classroom.

For the next week students continued working on their books and conferencing with teachers.

As we returned to reread our finished class book the kids decided we needed to add a table of contents. One girl added a 'Words to Know' section to her book and a bar code, "So other kids can check it out."

Seeing their motivation and engagement in writing these books was really exciting. Both the kids and I are feeling more energized about writing workshop now. I'm so grateful to work with a librarian that does so much to support what happens in our classrooms.

I'm hoping to post some pictures of our class book and some of the kids' books soon. Our next trip to the library will involve a writing celebration as we share all of our books and place them in a special basket in the school library for others to read.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Our Brilliant Librarian, Part 1

Recently my class wrote a pigeon book (Don't Let the Pigeon Eat Candy in the style of Mo Willems) and we put in our school library at the invitation of our librarian. Other classes have been loving it and my kids are super proud of themselves.

Our fabulous librarian decided we should take this a step further and have the kids write some books independently that we can place in the library to share with others. We decided to start with writing about plants. That way their books could be as simple as, "Trees are big. Trees are green. Trees are plants." or such.

The first day in the library the kids looked at lots of books about plants and we made a list of things we learned. This mostly entailed the kids finding pictures that fascinated them and then one of us reading them the caption. We took a bunch of books back to our room and continued our research.

From our research we planned a drafted a class book and the kids began working on their own books. The draft was done on one sheet of paper with about nine boxes. The kids could list the different things about their topic and then choose an order for them. The only requirement was that their book had to be about plants. All of this took place during one week and prepared us for our next trip to the library.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Math Is Hard

I find helping kids understand the concept of place value, specifically of 10s and 1s, to be a significant challenge. Somehow by fourth and fifth grade these kids totally get it, but I have no idea how their primary teachers taught them! Now that I am one of those primary teachers I'm struggling with this.

We often use these blocks to illustrate the equivalency. But I'm not convinced that it makes it really clear unless you are already accepting of the concept. So last week I decided we needed a bit more obvious of a picture to help with seeing this. I pulled out our 100 chart and we put in blocks to illustrate each number starting at one.

As we got closer and closer to 10 the kids started to see it was getting crowded. When we got to 10 we put in 10 little blocks. Then, thankfully, one of the kids suggested we try the orange block instead. From there it was easy to do 11, 12, 13, etc. We jumped to the early 20s and early 30s (I knew this would be tough to pull off even in the upper 20s and 30s much less down into the 60s or higher). I'm not sure this worked completely, but I do think it got us off on the right foot.


Title is taken from the controversial Teen Talk Barbie who actually said, "Math class is tough."

Photo Gallery

I spend an inordinate amount of time at Target. I have all sorts of rationalizations for it, but it is completely excessive. So, I end up buying numerous things on clearance, just because I can't pass up that price! One thing I bought some time last spring was a set of decals to stick on walls. They are clearly designed to decorate a child's room. I thought they would be great in my classroom.

At the beginning of this year I used a few because I don't like to put out a lot of things before the kids arrive. I want them to help create the classroom. So a few of these small things added a bit of color without being too intrusive.

Recently I pulled the package out again as I was reorganizing some things (a constant battle). I realized that there were also picture frames and photo corners there. So I printed out some pictures from this year and created a photo gallery for us. I'll add to it as the year continues. The first day it was up the kids were thrilled. As I add I think they will be excited again and again. Plus, somehow, seeing the gallery makes me smile, even on the worst days.

Agreeing with Dan

Dan Meyer frequently gives me something to think about. A recent post of his stayed in my brain for several days. He is a compelling writer and what he has to say here is fascinating. He is writing about his 'blue students', kids who are struggling.
But graduation, college, and career are all abstractions wrapped in scare quotes to my blue students. So they pummel my flabby pedagogy daily to the point that I'm burger. Lean burger.
Dan is becoming a better teacher on a daily basis because these students need him to be. He can't skate by with these kids.

It took a few days, but I finally realized that his post reminded me of something I had written (and strongly believe).
If you want to see powerful, meaningful instruction taking place, look for schools teaching struggling learners. The students may not be scoring on standardized tests as well as their middle class peers, but I'd bet they're making more progress on a daily basis thanks to their hard work and their teachers' dedication.
One coworker, Mark, agreed with this assessment. He has worked elsewhere and also sees the difference.

Here the teachers keep their eye on the ball, because when they take it off, a kid literally falls through the cracks.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Blogosphere as Window

Reading blogs of other teachers gives me a window into other classrooms. Teaching is a fairly isolated profession and I rarely have the opportunity to see what is happening in classrooms other than my own. (Although I do think that I are more aware of other classroom practices at my school because of how much planning we do as teams or in small groups.)

I've been wondering why I find other teacher blogs so compelling when all I am doing is reading about their days. I finally realized that I am analyzing their teaching in the same way that I analyze my own and trying to learn more about the best way to help my students.

It is possible that I am just rationalizing to make myself feel better about how much time I spend reading these blogs.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Don't Let the Pigeon...

  • go to town
  • play on the computer
  • cook dinner
  • steal your candy
  • drive a car
  • go trick or treating
  • get a girlfriend
  • go outside
  • steal your car
  • take a picture
  • fall in love
  • take your presents
  • fly
  • come to your birthday party
  • kiss a girlfriend
  • steal the plane
  • have a party
  • eat candy
  • have your toys
  • steal your books
  • ride a bike
  • get married
That's the list of ideas my first graders generated after we read many Mo Willems' books and watched his simulcast. We then picked one item from the list to write a pigeon story together. The top choices included all the ones about girlfriends, love, or marriage. I made an executive decision to not write about any of those because the giggling was out of control. We wrote Don't Let the Pigeon Eat Candy instead.

You can view the VoiceThread of our book here.

Don't Let the Pigeon Eat Candy

Friday, November 13, 2009

Getting It

I am a musician. I began studying the piano in late elementary school. Somewhere in early high school I began taking two lessons a week. One lesson was the normal playing and improving technique. The other lesson was theory. I don't remember a whole lot about those theory lessons but I remember really struggling with the circle of fifths (a basic, important concept). I spent years trying to learn it with my piano teacher to no avail. It never seemed to click.

In college I was a music major and took music theory my first semester. Early in that first semester our professor taught us about the circle of fifths. I can vividly remember immediately thinking, "I get it." I don't think he did anything noticeably different than my piano teacher had done (she was an exceptionally talented, well educated musician) but it clicked this time. In fact, it seemed unbelievably simple and I was astounded at how difficult it had previously seemed.

As a first grade teacher I think of this often. I work with many students who are reading 'below grade level'. I wonder if they just aren't ready yet. Will they sit in a reading group one day and just have it click? Am I beating a love of reading out of them because I'm pushing them so hard before they are ready? Is all of our hard work in reading the foundation for that aha moment when reading finally works for them?

I have no idea. However, I have watched my own daughter, a first grader this year, as she has been learning to read. She finished kindergarten right on benchmark. However, I would not say that she was really reading yet. Recently, around the end of the first quarter of first grade, she just seemed to get it. All of a sudden she wasn't just guessing what word it might be or skipping words that were tough, she was reading. A friend says it's like the reading fairy has come to visit kids. It seems like an overnight change.

I had looked at the circle of fifths countless times for several years without understanding. Then, I looked at it and got it. Did those previous years play any role in my understanding? Do my guided reading groups with very beginning books make a difference? Would it be just as good to spend that time reading to the kids and talking about books until they are ready to get it? Is it possible we are telling parents their children are reading below grade level when they are simply getting ready to read at their own pace? I wish I knew.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Teachers Who Teach Me Often

A couple of comments from folks in the last few days have really stuck with me and are filling my brain right now. I was chatting with the best first grade teacher I know recently and sharing with her how impressed I am by how much patience she has with others. Sadly, patience is not a strong suit for me.

She said that when she gets frustrated with people (we're talking about adults, our patience with children is less of an issue) she thinks to herself, "She is some one's daughter." or "He is some one's brother." Looking at irritating people in that light helps her to think more kindly. It's such a simple concept and yet I think it is awe-inspiring.

The other comment came from a blog post by organized chaos. She wrote about the teacher she wasn't. It hit home because it also described me that day. Based on the comments, she and I were far from alone. One reason her post really struck me was because I find myself thinking WWOCD (What Would Organized Chaos Do?) on a regular basis as a guide for good teaching. If I can follow the answer to that question I am often more patient, more caring, more quick to pick up on cues from students: academic, social, and emotional. So, if she has days like that one, somehow it makes it more okay that I do so as well. I will strive against them, but it helps me accept my flaws.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I'm full of ideas. Sometimes they even get implemented. Every once in a while an idea seems brilliant. Even more rarely, when implemented the idea actually plays out to be brilliant.

Centers during reading workshop go fairly well. Most of the time I feel as though the students know what to do, are doing it, and are actually learning to be better readers as a result. Success.

However, getting started with centers can be tough, especially by Friday since I explained any new centers on Monday. So recently I took a picture of the various places students might need to go for their centers and put the picture up with the center name. Now at least they know where to start! Centers that are used often stay in the same place so the picture is less necessary, but I include it anyway. The visual cue really seems to help some kids get rolling and makes center time smoother, which means I can accomplish a lot more with my guided reading groups.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Same or Different

My first graders sign in every morning. This was a recommendation from my fabulous reading co-teacher and I love it.

The kids:
  • see each other's names everyday
  • practice writing their own name (neatly on lined paper) everyday
  • practice writing with an upper case letter followed by lower case letters
Plus, it makes it easy for me to see who is absent.

Today, I changed it up a little. For those kids who are consistently writing their names correctly , with upper case and lower case letters I added their last name to the sign in sheet. Many of these kids don't know how to spell their last name and some can't even tell you it. So, this is good practice for them. Also, we're hoping those who aren't consistently writing their first name properly will focus more on it in order to add their last name.

I overheard one little girl, as she was signing in, say to a boy, "Hey, we have the same last name!" I thought, "How fabulous that they'll make these connections now."

Later, when looking at this with my amazing co-teacher, she pointed out to me that I put the wrong last name for this little boy. They do not have the same last name. Thank goodness she caught it early so that he doesn't write the wrong name for weeks! He didn't seem to notice that it wasn't right. Ah, first grade.

Update: When I picked my students up from art this afternoon this boy was so proud to show me that he had written his first and last name on his work. It was not the correct last name. Ugh. On Monday he and I will have to look at the new sign in sheet and talk about my mistake.

I can't decide if I should be so impressed with how quickly he has taken on trying to write his last name or depressed that he doesn't realize it isn't his last name. (They do start with the same letter and are similar, in his [and my] defense.)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Making the Grade

Our school district is trying out a new elementary school report card. I wrote about it last year when it was in early stages. We've tried it for our first quarter and so far I'm quite impressed. They have made changes from last year and the thinking skills are no longer on the report card. In spite of that, I'm excited about the possibilities.

Dean Shareski recently tweeted about his district's grading policies. These dos and don'ts are very impressive. Like our new report card, these guidelines require us to think about grades in a new way.

These guidelines suggest that teachers should ensure that grades reflect the learning rather than the attitude, effort, or timeliness of assignments. For some time now it has been accepted that these things as well as homework and practice should impact grades. As a result, grades have not typically been a clear reflection of a child's learning. It's exciting to see different districts challenging traditional grading practices.

I know many teachers, including plenty at my school, are struggling with these new ideas of grading. I wonder how isolated these innovations are or if districts across the country (and in other countries, like Shareski's district) are pushing these boundaries as well.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Research Shows...Very Little

I'm taking a class, Introduction to Supervision of Instruction. It's actually been a very intriguing course. One of the few assignments has been to choose one skill, competency, or program that you believe has a positive impact on student achievement and look closely at the research on it. (Basically our professor figures we'll find that there is very little valid, reliable research proving positive effects on student achievement for just about anything.)

As a result of this class, Bud the Teacher's recent tweets really struck me.





I am amazed at how often we say that research shows something when there is minimal proof of such things. This is true not just of teachers and administrators in schools and districts but for reporters and politicians. I am finding it shockingly frustrating.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Out of Control

I've been thinking a lot about control in my classroom. What do I want to control? Where do I want to let go of control?

Over 12 years of teaching my views on control have changed quite a bit. To an outsider I think it would look as though I control very little (for better or for worse). My first graders do not have assigned seats. In fact, our tables are at different heights so that they can sit on the floor, in chairs, or stand while they work. Clipboards are available to them anytime they want to use them as are various other surfaces (student desk that was planned as a 'thinking spot', a teacher desk that was planned for my fabulous co-teachers, small table our amazing librarian passed on to me knowing of the various options in my room). The students have taken over the physical space in the room. They work where they want and with whomever they want.

I retain control over some obvious aspects. I move kids when they aren't able to work because they are bugging another or unable to stop chatting about karate class during a read aloud. I move kids in line if needed so that we can walk respectfully past other classes. I'm totally in charge of our schedule (well, more than the kids are anyway - I don't have total control here either).

The most important thing I control now is in the shadows. I work hard to offer my students experiences that will scaffold learning for them. I think hard about exactly how to present something or which experience needs to follow which in order to build schema in a way that will set them up for the future. I control this in the hopes of maximizing the time we have together. I don't want to waste a minute.

I think a lot more about this area than I do where kids sit or who they work with in a group. I couldn't do that ten years ago. I'm grateful for the experience that has allowed me to focus on what I think is truly important.

Image from planegeezer on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/10261531@N05/2197822659/

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Probably Thinking

I'm teaching an intersession class to first and second graders right now. (If you need/want more information on intersession, it's at the end of this post.) We're studying probability. I really enjoy this topic in math and thought it would be fun to explore for a couple of weeks.However, I made that decision without doing any real research or planning (anyone who knows me well is not shocked by this). Later, when I did begin to plan, at the last possible minute, I learned that probability is not really in the state standards for those grades. This appears to be because first and second graders aren't really able to comprehend probability (something I learned as I continued my research, somewhat desperately).

So, I turned to the Patterns of Thinking to help me plan. A couple of fabulous folks at Think and Thrive were exceptionally helpful to me and pushed me even further in my thinking. Derek Cabrera has said several times that probability is all about systems, something I had, so far, been unable to wrap my head around. After some time on Thinkipedia and a discussion with Derek this was beginning to make sense. And probability was beginning to seem really complicated.

So far, three days in, things are going pretty well. We started with the ideas of possible and not possible (impossible) and then moved on to likely and not likely (unlikely). Just these concepts were surprisingly difficult for the kids to understand. Surprisingly, at least, to me. Then I added the idea of certain and we looked at these in a line, moving from impossible to unlikely to equally likely (which we haven't really explored yet) to likely to certain. I think the students are beginning to comprehend those concepts.

Today, the third day, we actually spent some time pulling bears out of a bag and recording the data. We'll do more with the bears and some spinners tomorrow. For now, we'll really focus on collecting the data and discussing what we notice. Next week I'll try to bring this data back around to these concepts we've dug into this week. I really believe the kids' understanding of these concepts is much better than if we had simply begun with the activities and data collection. It's really been exciting.


If you understand the concept of intersession or if you simply don't care, you're done!

Intersession explanation: Our school begins 5 weeks before the majority of schools in our district. We have regular classes for the first quarter and then we are 'off' for two weeks. We then do the second quarter, have winter vacation and an extra week 'off'. Then, third quarter followed by spring break and another two weeks 'off'. This puts us right with everyone else for the fourth quarter. During those weeks 'off' we offer intersession classes. These have a math or language arts focus, but are theme based. We have offered cooking, theater, camping, tennis, art, music, and video classes, to name just a few. The kids are in one class for the morning and a different class for the afternoon. Most of the classes contain students from two grade levels. It's a lot of fun for the kids and for those of us who teach.

Friday, October 02, 2009

An Uphill Battle

My first grader is giving her fabulous teacher a ton of trouble. She's defiant, argumentative, sulky, and an all around pain in the tush. Her teacher has tried a huge variety of ways to help her and enlisted the advice of other experts in our building. We've attempted to address this at home through more attention for her and discussions of the behavior (when we aren't furious with her). Yesterday it escalated to the point that she ended up in the principal's office (that principal is, of course, also my boss - just to add to the complication here).

I genuinely don't think my daughter has any real understanding of why her behavior is such an issue. When I talked with her yesterday after things had cooled down, she did not seem to recognize how her behavior impacted her classmates. I can't figure out how to help her see this.

In addition, I'm trying not to let this issue feel like it is all about me. I can't get away from feeling like a failure as a parent. I'm pretty sure that is not helping me handle the situation well. We'll get through this, as many parents have before. Somehow, knowing that isn't as helpful as I would hope.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

More Ruminations from Rafe Esquith's Talk

Another thing Rafe Esquith said during his talk that has really stuck with me was, "My favorite word when teaching children is yet."

He went on to explain that there are many things kids aren't ready for yet. It doesn't mean they will never be ready. I'm finding this seems like a great way to help kids understand when they lose a privilege or opportunity. I explain to students that they are not showing that they are ready yet for the responsibility of new materials or that they are not ready yet for free choice because they have not finished their math work or they are not able to control their body/words/actions. Saying that they are not ready 'yet' suggests that they will be ready soon. I like that implication.

Rafe makes kids explain to him what they need to do to in order to get to do whatever they are not ready for yet. This adds more responsibility for the students to think about what they need to do.

Friday, September 25, 2009

No Follow Through

I'm great at thinking of really fun, engaging, high level projects (although, often at the last minute). I'm not, however, good at finishing them. This is a problem across all aspects of my life and one that my parents are probably nodding their heads about as they read this. It's been true all my life. I'm good at starting things and terrible at bringing them to completion.

This frustrates me in the classroom. It frustrates me at home, but not quite as much. In the classroom I start wonderful projects with students and then I move on to other, new, exciting ideas. There is no way these projects are even beginning to fulfill their potential as learning experiences when done this way.

I hope somehow, I think, that by writing this I will begin to keep my focus long enough to finish at least a few of these projects. We'll see.

(By the way, it is shockingly hard and embarrassing to admit this, even though folks who know me well must already have identified this flaw.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reason #723 Why I Love My School

Everytime I walk past offices of non-classroom teachers (you know, folks who have offices, like literacy coaches, math coaches, ESOL teachers, special education teachers, admins, etc.) they aren't there. They are away from their desks, in classrooms, working with kids. If that isn't one major, positive sign of the climate of a school, I don't know what is.

Good for Roaches

We've been working with the kids on thinking about what would make sense in their reading. Rather than just having kids focused on sounding out words we want them to think about the meaning as well. The awesome ESOL/reading teacher I co-teach with did a lesson with a big book last week. She covered up certain words in the book and had the kids list what the word could be. It was a great lesson.

She used the book, One Cold, Wet Night. One of the words she covered was weta, an insect in New Zealand. The kids did not manage to come up with weta, of course. They listed cricket, grasshopper, and such. One child suggested roach. This child is a bit of a talker and as the teacher called on the next student, he continued talking. He was explaining that he thought of roach because they have a lot of roaches at his house. The teacher, in an attempt to keep the lesson moving, responded distractedly with, "Good for you."

It took a second for it to register with me. I don't think it ever sank in for the kid, thankfully.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Watching, Always Watching

Rafe Esquith framed his keynote speech around three things teachers need to remember and think about everyday. I've been thinking about all three of them a lot lately, but I'm going to focus on one for a moment. He said that teachers are role models. Basically he was saying that, like it or not, our students are modeling themselves after us. "If you don't think your kids are watching you constantly you are sadly underestimating their powers of observation."

I figured that out years ago so this didn't come as a surprise. However, it did push me to think about some of the things I do that maybe I shouldn't. I expect my students to be silent (or nearly so) as we walk down the hall out of respect for other classes. Unlike them, I talk to teachers frequently. In my defense I do so because those opportunities to talk to colleagues are few and far between and we tend to grab them when we can. Even given that fact I'm working on curbing this habit. I don't like the message that it sends to my students that they have to be respectful of other classes but I don't.

I also tend to talk to other teachers in my classroom while the students are reading independently. That doesn't happen as often because I'm usually conferencing with students, but it does happen and I don't think it sends the right message either.

I also am often still pulling things together in the morning as the students are coming in and getting ready for morning meeting. I set a timer (as a result of some serious dilly-dallying) and I'm not always ready when it goes off. I'm not sure how I'm going to have things ready better than I do now, but I've decided I must. I have to be on the carpet when the timer rings.

I guess my take away from Esquith's point is more focused on being respectful of my students in my position as a role model. I'm much more thoughtful about what my actions say to them and I'm grateful for that.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Rafe Esquith and KIPP schools

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Rafe Esquith speak. Ever since reading Jay Mathews' book Work Hard Be Nice back in the spring I've been curious about Rafe Esquith. According to Mathews, the founders of KIPP cite Esquith as one of two significant influences and mentors (the other being a teacher in their building in their first years teaching). Esquith is well known for his various awards, books, and his students' Shakespeare performances.

I enjoyed Esquith's talks and found a lot to think about over the next little while. He did, without mentioning KIPP by name, say that those schools are not based on his classroom. He believes that their model is based on fear and bullying. He made these remarks in a smaller, breakout session, not in the main keynote.

I found his remarks on the subject of KIPP to be interesting. I found him to be charismatic, talented, and an engaging speaker. However, I also felt that he completely defines himself through his students. He has had many opportunities to leave the classroom and yet he remains there. That is admirable and I respect him for it. That said, I believe that one reason he is still in the classroom is because he cannot live outside of it.

I've got more thoughts and posts brewing based on his speech. He has many years of experience teaching some of our neediest students and there is much to learn from him.

Friday, September 04, 2009

TGIF

Because I can't bear to spend anymore time thinking about the absurd hoopla around President Obama's speech next week, I'm going to think instead about the amusing things first graders say.

During free choice several kids are building towers to run marbles through (I hope that makes sense, I couldn't think of a better way to describe this toy). Several marbles escape and go rolling across the room. Another child notices and hollers, "They're losing their marbles!"

All I could think was, "No, I'm pretty sure I'm the one doing that."

This morning we went to the library and our old librarian was there subbing for our new librarian. Our old librarian retired last year so the kids remembered her from kindergarten. One of them said to her, "Why are you here? You're retarded."

Thank goodness these kids make me smile everyday.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Desperate for Ideas

A fabulous fourth grade teacher at my school just dropped by briefly to ask me to mull over a challenge in her classroom. She has a new student (just arrived from Central America) who is illiterate. He can not read in Spanish; he can't actually identify all the letters in the Spanish alphabet. According to records he was in school in his country and repeated one or two grades.

She's looking for ways to engage him and help him learn at a level completely different from the rest of her class. Any thoughts?

Update: For more details and/or to get the story from the student's classroom teacher,go here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

She Who Hesitates...

Yesterday evening, at the end of a long school day and afternoon with my girls, I noticed the way I was responding to them. I found that I was hesitating before any question or comment that might have been harsh or chastising. It wasn't a conscious decision by any means, but it meant that I enjoyed a fun evening with my daughters. At points when I would often respond to them in ways that would increase conflict my hesitation meant that I managed to use a different tone, question, or phrase and keep things positive.

I'm not sure how to ensure that I hesitate in responding to my daughters more often. I'm even less certain of how to do this in my classroom. With 20 students, rather than just my 2 girls, I tend to respond to things immediately, if not sooner. As a result, I often regret my actions and wish I had been able to react in a way that did not escalate the situation.

Thinking about this reminded me of a comment from Rafe Esquith when he spoke at an event here recently. He said, "When I learned to shut up and listen I became a better teacher." One goal for this year is to listen more.

Monday, August 31, 2009

There Are No Words

This afternoon I was talking with another teacher about one of my students from the past. This teacher will be working with her now. We were talking so that the new teacher would understand the trauma that had occurred in this student's life the year she was with me.

As I was attempting to recount the story I found myself using vague phrases and unable to state the facts. The fact is that this girl was raped by a family friend on several occasions. Saying those words out loud was shockingly hard. Why is that?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

First Grade Meditations

My little Beyonce had a rough morning yesterday. She and I have been talking about having lunch together, but her behavior has meant that I haven't been willing to do it yet. Yesterday morning was so awful that I had her eat lunch in the office (something I rarely resort to). Surprisingly, the afternoon went really well. At least with Beyonce it did.

Near the end of the day, at the start of our free choice time, another little girl was crying. It had been a long day and this was not the first crying incident so I wasn't very patient with it. Beyonce was sitting near the crying one and I asked, "Are you helping the situation?" I was clearly thinking she was the cause of the crying. My wording was confusing, but once she understood she assurred me that she was helping, so I got the rest of the kids going on free choice.

When I returned to talk to the crying child, Beyonce had herself, the crier, and another friend sitting cross-legged in a circle. They were holding their hands up, fingers pinched together, eyes closed, chanting "ohmm."

It was brilliant. Now if I could just get her to give that a try when she starts to lose control.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Responsibility , Respect, and a Recording Artist

Another run-in with one of my little ones today made me think about several things. One is that I need a name for her here because I'm sure I'll be writing/thinking/tearing my hair out over her a lot. I've decided to call her Beyonce. I choose the name because of a couple of experiences with her. On the first day of school I take a picture of every child in my class which I use throughout the year for a variety of purposes. She was the only child to truly 'strike a pose' for the picture and I loved it! The second event was during our free choice time when she was part of a group playing with Lincoln Logs (I found them at a yard sale). One kid was actually building with them but the others had found other uses. This little girl was holding one like a microphone and singing and dancing!

Today she had a fabulous morning and then things fell apart after lunch. It's a long story but I finally sent her to another classroom to calm down and when she returned it got ugly again. We brought in one of our after-school-care teachers who knows her and took her somewhere quiet to settle down. That worked well. I don't think I handled things perfectly, but I'm not sure there is much I could have done to improve the situation.

So, I'm left wondering what to expect of this six-year old. I've wondered this before. If a child's problems stem from parenting or family issues (I'm not sure that is true here or not), what does that mean? Should we cut them some slack? Should we hold even tighter to counteract the other?

I don't feel like I can expect the same behavior from a child with a difficult home life than I can from a child with a stable home. These are children. They are going to struggle with emotions, impulse control, focus, and so much more even when things are going well for them. When things are tough of course they will act out or shut down. How do we help them build skills to cope with life, much less teach the prescribed curriculum?

I feel as though I've rambled on a lot here without ever truly managing to get at the point or question that is in my head.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Walk This Way

It hit me today that this year's class is able to walk down the hallway so much more quietly and under control than last year's class could do. That's a big positive for the start of the year.

On the other hand, the big negative is that I've never had so many students who regularly pick their noses and a couple who often touch themselves.

It makes me yearn for the days of struggling to walk down the hallway.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hard at Work

I wrote last week about offering my students choices about where they work at any given time. One thing that surprised me is that students are working in unexpected places. This first little table was passed on to me by our fabulous librarian because she knew about my tables at different heights and thought the kids might like this as a place to work. She was right.


Working on the carpet is not new. Kids did it last year, but only at fairly specific times. They would stretch out there to read or play a math game. This group almost always has at least one kid on the carpet, no matter what they are doing in the way of work.

The bench here was originally a printer table. It was passed on to me years ago by our retired librarian. My father and sister added the bulletin board to the back and reinforced the bench so that it would hold me or students. It sits in our math nook area and has only really been discovered as a working spot by a few students.


The two desks here are where the students sign in every morning. I put them there as a thinking spot for kids who need a break from class. No one has used it that way yet, but many students have sat there to work.

This table came from a house my sister lived in years ago. She was one of several renters living there when the owner decided to sell. She was the last to move out and ended up with lots of things folks had left behind. My plan for the table was to be part of a writing center (the trays behind this student held various paper options last year). Now I don't think I can put anything on the lower part of the table because the kids expect to be able to work there.

Students have also taken to working at the trapezoid table near my desk that I will use for meeting with reading groups and other small groups and the small desk I set up for my co-teachers to have a home base when they are in the room.

I was surprised by how the students have adopted all these spots for working, but it was a pleasant surprise. I can't wait to see what happens when our library area with the couch opens!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

High and Low of the Day

I tried to tackle too much today. It's only the second week of school with first graders, I should know better. I was trying to have several things going on at once and it got a bit out of hand. I stopped the class and sent them back to the carpet to reevaluate. One little girl refused to cooperate. We've run into this more than once in the past week but we've been able to make things work so far. Today, not so much.

I gave her a couple of options, finally told her I would count to 3 and she needed to be doing her job as a first grader or take a break across the hall in a kindergarten classroom. She didn't want to pick either choice. After counting to 3 I took her hand to head across the hall. She wouldn't go. I quickly decided that I couldn't get into this power struggle right then and picked her up and took her across the hall.

It didn't even take the entire walk across the hall for me to recognize that I had not handled this well. Her behavior wasn't really any different from what we'd seen so far, but I was so frazzled by the other things going on that I didn't have the wherewithal to work this out with her.

When I returned to get her after about 2 minutes I sat down with her in the hall. I told her how much I like her and how high my hopes are for her. I don't know if what I said mattered because her teary, hesitant response was, "So you're not going to call my mom." I reassured her that I had no intention of calling her mom, that I wanted the two of us to come up with a plan for a good year. I hope I figure out how to make that happen!

Ugh, I hate when I realize that the issue was me, not the student.

On the positive side, I sewed a skirt for my tall table and I'm so excited by it! You can see the 'before' picture here. This is so much better.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sweeter Side of Bill O'Reilly

This week's Parade magazine has an article by Bill O'Reilly, What President Obama Can Teach America's Kids. That title by that author was just begging to be read. I'm still wondering what compelled O'Reilly to write it.

To a less cynical person the article might read as a positive take on the president. Clearly, I'm more cynical than I like to think.

O'Reilly lists the various lessons Obama can teach: forgiveness, respect, persistence, hard work, and anything is possible. Good lessons. But O'Reilly can't leave it at that.

He says, "President Obama was just 2 when his father abandoned him and his mother in Hawaii." I've read Dreams from My Father and nothing in it suggests abandonment. However, I was willing to let that one slide.

Then he writes, "Even though his mom and dad apparently put their needs ahead of his, he speaks of them in mostly affectionate terms. He finds a way not to demean them." Mostly affectionate terms? Apparently finding a way not to demean someone is too tough for O'Reilly.

One last quote, "That man had no fatherly guidance, is of mixed race, and had no family connections to guide him into the world of national politics." I'm guessing Obama's grandfather was a pretty good guide. Also, let's not forget the wisdom of the women in his life.

There are other backhanded compliments throughout, but I think I've ranted enough to feel better. Thanks for indulging me.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Books in the First Four Days

video

This year I decided to try something new to start off independent reading. I've been collecting multiple copies of various books and attempting to have many from various series as well. In this first week I've read as many books as possible and then put them out for the kids during independent reading. It's been highly successful! The kids are very engaged in reading these books.

We also read two wordless picture books to model for the kids how to read books without words. The goal was to help them read books with text that is too difficult for them. Until we really get into guided reading they won't likely have books they are truly able to read yet. So we wanted to set them up for successful independent reading. Again, it's worked pretty well.

The video above shows all the books we've read together by lunchtime on the fourth day of school. We're copying the covers of the books and hanging them up to help the kids remember them. I'm really good at starting things like this, less good at following through.

(I wish I could remember where I read about having multiple copies of books the teacher reads for the kids. I have no idea.)

I Wonder What His Mom Would Think

I'm clearing out pages from a few notepads and I came across a quote I wrote down last year:
When our mothers don't have babies, they ask strangers to be in their family.
I don't remember the context of the quote, but I couldn't throw the page away without sharing it.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Choices, Choices, Choices

I firmly believe in the power of choice for kids. I will admit that I'm not nearly as good about making sure choice is built into our day as I would like to be.

I recently heard another first grade teacher talk about ways she incorporated choice in her classroom. One thing she did that really struck me was not assigning seats and setting her tables at different heights. Not assigning seats is new to me. I've always assigned seats, although I have let kids make requests.

I was really excited about this possibility. So, this year I have one tall table where students can stand to work, two typical tables with chairs, and one table on the ground for students to sit on the floor and work.

So far, I'm thrilled with it. The kids haven't seemed fazed by it at all and just find a spot at different times throughout the day.

One interesting unexpected result is that the kids have adopted other areas of the classroom for themselves. I have one desk set up as a home base for the other teachers who come to work in my room and the kids have sat there to work. One certain kid has totally grabbed it as his place. I also have a desk sitting alone for students who need a moment on their own before rejoining the group. Kids have also decided to work there. It seems that no spot is off limits to them. It seems that the classroom is ours rather than mine already. I couldn't ask for more than that on the third day.

(Just as an aside, I'm sewing a skirt for the tall table. It is driving me crazy that it looks so messy with all the stuff underneath it. I want it for storage, but I want it to look nicer. We'll see how the sewing goes, I'm not much of a seamstress.)

Monday, August 03, 2009

Rookie Mistake

Today was our first day of school. We crammed a lot into the few hours we had together. One of the things we did was sketch quick pictures of ourselves. Before sending the first graders off to sketch we talked briefly about the different parts they might have in their picture. I used thinkblocks to help with this idea. After a bit I asked the kids to return to the carpet with their pictures. A couple of kids shared some parts of their picture and we used the thinkblocks again. Then I sent them off in pairs to use the thinkblocks to discuss the different parts of each of their pictures.

As I walked around the room I kept gently reminding kids of the directions because so many were playing around with the blocks. After a few minutes I realized this was my own fault.

Tomorrow we will spend some time just exploring with the thinkblocks. Then we'll dig back in with them in more structured ways. I really do know better than to hand 19 first graders a new manipulative/tool/toy and not give them time to play around. I'd want time to play around!

Friday, July 31, 2009

New Year, New Kids

We had our open house this afternoon so that kids and parents could come to meet their new teacher. It's the real kick off for the new year. I love meeting the kids for the first time (or seeing them again if I knew them in kindergarten) and seeing them with their families.

Last year was my first year in first grade and meeting the kids was a whole new experience. The two years before that I was teaching our gifted fifth grade class and I knew most of the class long before they arrived in my room. The year before that I had looped up to fifth grade with my class. So, it has been a long time since I have gotten a bunch of new kids just like the previous year.

I really enjoyed meeting them this afternoon, but as I watched them wander around checking out the room and each other, I felt a tinge of disappointment. I don't have an attachment to them (yet). For all the challenges of last year, I adored those kids. I want them back.

I know that in a few days I will love these little ones just as much. I know that I will be carrying their joys, successes, frustrations, and issues with me all day everyday. But right now they seem like outsiders in my classroom.

It's time to think about the best ways to make it our classroom and make it quick.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Pat on the Back

We started off this morning with a meeting (not what we all wanted because we desperately want to be working in our classrooms getting ready for all the little faces that will be dropping in to meet us tomorrow). The assistant superintendent for our cluster had asked to talk with us, however, so we gathered in the library first thing this morning. As it turns out, I'm really glad we did.

We did not make AYP last year or the year before. Fortunately two years ago we missed one subgroup in math and last year we missed one subgroup in reading. So we're not facing sanctions at this point.

Our assistant superintendent wanted to be sure that we started off the year recognizing the fabulous things we are doing as a school. She talked about what a model we are and what miracles occurred here last year. We grew by 150 students last year and we already have a 40% mobility rate. That's a lot of kids coming and going in one school year. In spite of that we don't have a noticeable achievement gap between subgroups and we met expectations in all but that one subgroup in reading.

I can't describe how much I appreciate the fact that she came out to share this message with us. It's easy to feel weighted down by not making AYP and forget all the amazing things going on. I am so lucky to work at such an astounding school and it's great to know that others (especially in positions of authority) recognize that as well.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gotta Get Going

As teachers we go back a week before the kids. We are now three days into that week. On my drive home today I realized that I've been so caught up in preparing my classroom for the year, I have forgotten to plan for the students for next week. This happens to me every year.

I don't mean to suggest that the time spent on my classroom is not worthwhile. It certainly is. Setting up my classroom involves thinking through all sorts of important issues for the year. It makes me think about the community we want to create, the different learning experiences we will have, and the possible personalities in our class. I get so excited about creating a space that will offer many possibilities and be as flexible as possible, that it becomes all consuming.

Tonight, tomorrow, over the next few days, it is time to think about the kids. What will we do on that first day? How will we get to know one another? How will we organize all our materials? What will we do to begin building a strong community?

Even more importantly, it is time to begin really fleshing out my vision for the year (some might fairly say I should have started sooner actually). I still don't have a big picture view of this year and without that I'm just throwing things together here.

I'd love to hear about the way you spend your first days with students. What's your vision for that time and how to work to reach it?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

NECC Day 4 & 5

Day 4

This was the day I presented with a couple of friends and co-workers. That was the major focus of the day and I actually didn't manage to attend any other sessions. We presented on the work we've been doing with technology at our school. We shared the various types of things students have done from first through fifth grades. It was a well attended session and we had a good time. The information from the session can be found here. We also created a delicious page with all of the links.

Being a part of this presentation was surprisingly energizing for me. It helped me to recognize all of the fun stuff we did this year that was really great. As a result, I'm feeling more excited about this year and all the possibilities.

Day 5

I debated about whether or not to head into town for the final morning of NECC (I live outside of DC so I took the metro in most days. It made for a very different conference experience, I think.) I knew I couldn't stay for the full morning because I needed to get home to my daughters but I really wanted to hear Alan November speak. I'm really glad I went because I greatly enjoyed his talk and I'm looking forward to the tweets and posts from folks at his upcoming conference.

Lisa Parisi liveblogged this session. It was called Designing Rigorous and Globally Connected Assignments. In this session, as in many others, I felt like one of the main messages was that it's not about the tools, it's about the learning, the pedagogy, all the things it has always been about. The tools are simply that, tools. However, these tools open up possibilities that didn't exist or were too difficult in the past. We can bring families into the classroom through skype. We can learn from people around the world immediately. Another message that came through here and elsewhere was that teachers have to let go of control. We can't solely own the learning anymore. I find that exciting, but I'm not sure most folks do. Most at NECC, however, certainly seem to.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

NECC Day 3

By the third day of NECC I was getting a little worn out. I had already done two days of fabulous professional development, networking, and learning. However, this was just the start of the official conference!

I quickly learned that I couldn't attend too many sessions. The sessions overlap and it took some carefully reading of the options and thinking about timing and location to plan out my day. And then I only ended up in two sessions!

I was looking specifically for sessions aimed at primary classrooms. Having taught fourth/fifth grades for many years I had many challenges switching to first last year. One great challenge was technology. I didn't have many ideas for how to help my students and how to use technology efficiently and effectively. So I was hoping to get some new ideas.

The first session I attended was Improving Reading Skills with Digital Media. This session was all about PBS kids' programs and corresponding websites. A lot of the focus was on how they develop the shows and sites. While I found it very interesting, I did not find it hugely helpful for me as a teacher. The basic message I heard was that my students should be using these sites. I'm still trying to decide what I want to do with that. We've gotten our five year old started on the PBS Kids' Island and I'm hoping to get a better sense of it through her. The Island requires a log in so that kids can move progressively through lessons. It is not obvious to kids that they are doing so as it offers them a lot of choice, but it controls what options they have to help them build reading skills. Parents can track their child's progress and there is a lot of information to help parents understand the various skills. The site was designed with low-income children and families in mind. It is possible that I will spend some time discussing it with parents on Back to School Night if it seems worthwhile. Again, it is something I'll be spending more time thinking about.

The only other session I attended was a panel discussion with Maria Knee, Kathy Cassidy, and Amanda Marrinan titled Global Connections in the Primary Classroom. I have followed all three of these women online for some time now and I have immense respect for the work they are doing with primary students. The room was full so it seems clear that there is demand for information and ideas in this area. I liveblogged this session. There were a couple of powerful take-aways for me. The issue of keeping kids safe online is always brought up when talking about elementary school. These teachers remarked that we think about ways to keep kids safe everywhere, on the playground, on field trips, in the cafeteria, etc. Keeping them safe online is our responsibility and something we are quite capable doing. The other big thing I remember is the idea that these classroom don't really look that different from any other kindergarten or first grade classroom. These students are learning to read, write, do math, and more. Various forms of technology are just some of the many tools they use for this learning.

NECC Day 2 - Constructivist Celebration

I spent most of the second day at NECC at Sidwell Friends School at the Constructivist Celebration. The Constructivist Consortium is a group of educational software companies who have a focus on creativity and student empowerment. The group was formed (to the best of my knowledge) by Gary Stager. I heard Gary speak at Educon back in January so when I learned about the Celebration I immediately signed up. I didn't really know what to expect, I just figured it would be worth my time.

It definitely was. I enjoy hearing Gary speak. He is passionate and does not suffer fools. He might drive me nuts if I disagreed with him, but I don't so it works for me. He had representatives there from the different software companies and they gave us their software to explore. For a good portion of the day that is what we did. It was wonderful to have the opportunity and the time with the products.

I fell in love with Peter H. Reynold's products, Stationary Studio and Animation-ish. I can't wait for the year to start so that I can put Animation-ish up on my smartboard and we can begin creating. (It goes quite well with the book I am reading, Talking, Drawing, Writing.) Peter also spoke that afternoon and he is inspirational. His love of children and his passion in the power of creativity are contagious.

The other software that held great potential, in my opinion, was the stuff from Tech4Learning. I used Pixie quite a bit this past year and now I'm very excited by the possibilities in Frames.

The Constructivist Celebration was an inspiring, energizing day. It also was an opportunity for me to meet a lot of fabulous educators from around the country.

(I expect to be posting more about how I've used these products in the next several weeks as the school year gets rolling.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Edubloggercon at NECC

It's been weeks now and I'm finally beginning to write my reflections from NECC. I greatly enjoyed the conference and had the chance to meet, chat with, and learn from some truly fabulous people.

Edubloggercon, the unconference type of day that happened before NECC officially began was a true highlight for me. It was a reasonably small number of people who took the opportunity to discuss the things that mattered to them. I had to leave early due to another commitment and I was very sad. As a result, I was only able to attend two of the sessions.

The first was Liz Davis's discussion of professional development. Alice Mercer liveblogged this one and has already written a great reflection. I don't have anything of significance to add to those two posts.

The second session I attended was Steve Haragadon's on social networking in education. This one I liveblogged. (Edubloggercon was my first real experience with liveblogging and it was wonderful. I think it helped me focus better and keep my mouth shut a bit more.) The first issue to discuss what how we wanted to define social networks for this session. After agreeing to include pretty much everything we moved on to whether or not they should be used in schools and what that means. Steve made the argument that we need to bring these tools into schools, not only because they are being used in the world but also because they are pedagogically sound. The discussion made its way through a whole host of interesting questions. One that really struck me was what are the implications of not using these tools in school. We also talked about closed social networks, limited just to a school or district. It was a fascinating conversation that gave me a lot to think about for a while.

Edubloggercon allowed us the freedom to focus on topics important to us. Even within the sessions we could be flexible and go where we wanted to go. In Steve's session we could take a moment to determine how we wanted to define social networks. In a more traditionally structured session we would have talked about social networking based on the presenters' definition. That made for sessions that had true meaning to us.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Our NECC Presentation

My first foray into NECC is over and I am exhausted. I have so many thoughts, ideas, and questions flying around in my brain and I need time to reflect before any real posts are ready. However, I presented with two others from my school, Mark Smith, our technology guy, and Jennifer Metcalfe, a fourth grade teacher, on Tuesday. We had a good turnout and a fabulous time. Mark generously posted a summary of the presentation and information about the three of us here. The powerpoint is posted here. Finally, we created a delicious page with a wide range of links showcasing our students' work from the past several years. We also managed to get some pictures during the presentation and I'm hoping to get them up on flickr soon.

Monday, June 29, 2009

NECC Exhibit Hall Rant

The exhibit hall here at NECC defies description. It's in the basement of the Convention Center and runs under both buildings (essentially two blocks). I've been down there twice and accomplished nothing, partly because I'm just too overwhelmed.

However, the other reason I've accomplished nothing is because the great majority of the exhibits are a huge waste of time. Actually, that's an understatement. As an educator I'm offended by the existence of some of these companies. Their core beliefs are 180 degrees from mine. I spent a good five minutes listening to a young man explain one website to me (without blowing up at him because I don't truly blame him). The things he kept saying are clearly the 'selling points' for this product. Things like, "It's so bright and colorful and fun it keeps the kids from realizing they are learning." and "That's a fun little graphic that will keep them interested." God forbid we should make the actual learning interesting!

In addition to that frustration, I felt like the program was basically electronic worksheets. How is that 21st century learning?

It seems to me that so many of these companies are creating electronic worksheets or they are preparing kids for testing or they are trying to make school 'teacher-proof'. I'm not okay with any of those goals. Many companies have learned the right buzz words, but the reality doesn't match their sales talk.

The worst part is that they are clearly making lots of money this way. It makes me so sad (and angry, obviously).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Last Day Sadness

Not my sadness, my daughter's. Tomorrow is her last day of kindergarten. Her class has become a community like none I've seen before. Her teacher has been amazed by them. They were the ones that planned an entire wedding for their class bear.

This sadness keeps waking her up tonight. She's devastated by this ending. I want to honor that feeling, but I also want to help her become excited about the new things to come. How do we grieve for the past while simultaneously anticipating the future?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Goodbye Little Prince

My little prince will be moving this summer. So he will go on to second grade at another school. Today he said to me, "Can I bring you a picture so you'll remember me?"

A picture? I need a picture? Is he kidding?

I told him, "Of course you can bring me a picture. But, don't worry, I'm not going to forget you!"

I have to admit that it makes me unbelievable sad when kids move. I think it's even more true now that I teach first grade. It is so exciting to think of watching them grow for years to come. (I know we have a 30-40% mobility rate, but why does it have to be MY kids?)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thanks Tweeps!

First thing this morning I tweeted: "Report cards are nearly finished. Doing them always reminds me of how much I hate assigning grades. I just don't believe in them."

This is a big pet peeve of mine. I have many issues with grades. I think they put the focus in the wrong place for students. I don't think they communicate anything informative to parents. In fact, the more time I spend thinking about them the more frustrated I get.

Fortunately my tweeps were there for me this morning.

This response made me laugh out loud:
Give everyone A's you meanie

The next response was one of those reassuring reminders that I'm not alone:
I feel the same way.& then parents ask what a 3 is equivalent to...grrr. We have done so much parent ed to get them to understand.

Finally another giggle:
To not believe in assigning grades? That concept sounds vaguely un-American. :-)

Those responses made starting my day so much more of a positive experience. Thanks!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More Gardening Goodness

Last week I wrote about our plans for a garden. The students wrote a fabulous letter and copied it out four times so that I could take it to different places. I wanted it to be in first grade writing because I figured that would be more powerful. I also printed out a few pictures of the kids measuring the garden plot (and I typed a copy of the letter in case folks had trouble reading it).

Our third stop was a success! A nursery near us donated $60 worth of small, plastic, white fencing. It's just perfect for our needs. Today we wrote a thank you note to the woman at the nursery. The kids wrote it almost completely on their own - composing and actually writing. It says, "Thank you for the free fence. Now none of the kids will walk on our garden. You're super duper nice. We like the fence a lot." Perfect.

Today we went out and spent some time just digging in the dirt. I gave each kid a small spade or cultivator. It was amazing! The kids were fascinated by the roots of the different weeds and grasses. We did study plants not too long ago. One boy kept running over to me with weed after weed saying, "You won't believe it! I found another root!"

We just started studying worms this week (nothing like starting a new science unit in the last week and a half). They found a ton of worms and were noticing the way they moved and their different parts. They also found other sorts of critters in the dirt. They found one I didn't recognize, but it looked sort of worm-like. One student noted that it couldn't be a worm because it had little legs. I couldn't have planned a lesson that would have been this fabulous.

Our principal walked by at one point and proved, yet again, why I love her so. She cheered the students on in their work and when one student ran over with a worm she said, "That's my favorite worm! How did you know?"

We won't get much of a garden planted in the few days that are left, but we'll get it started. I'm quite certain that next year's class (and the years' to come) will have a lot of work, learning, and fun in this small corner of our school.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Garden Goodness (I Hope!)

With only a week and a half left in the school year I've decided to try to plant a garden with my first graders. It's not a brilliant idea by any means, but once I had mentioned it to them there was no going back.

Our principal has given us a plot of land between the cafeteria and the playground. Students often run across it in their haste to get to recess. So we want to plant there and put up a small fence to discourage such behavior.

We went out one day and measured the area so that we would know how much fence we needed. We then wrote letters to local nurseries and hardware stores asking for a donation. I'll be taking the letters (and some pictures) around this weekend. I hope we get a bite!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

My New Toy

We've done it. We've ordered a netbook. I've been mulling this over all year but I haven't had the guts to pull the trigger. My husband finally took that step for me. It should arrive tomorrow.

My goal is to use this netbook for all my anecdotal record keeping. I'd like to keep these records in google docs that could also be used by my amazing co-teacher. Sadly, I'm really bad at being able to plan well for something ahead of time. I tend to have to modify again and again in the midst of everything (hence my classroom being rearranged almost a dozen times this year).

I want these records to be easy to use both as we input information and as we come back to them. I'm pretty good about keeping anecdotal records on my students but I am awful at using them to plan future instruction. I want to solve that problem. My hope is that google docs will make it so that I can sort and search in order to form small groups for enrichment or remediation.

Do you know of anyone who has done something like this? Do you have any advice for how to organize it? Can you think of any pitfalls we should be planning to avoid?